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“The resurrection of Jesus Christ—cancelled!”

This was on a sign in front of a church I passed the other day with no further explanation. It, the general Easter weekend, the depressing commercials of a charity asking for money for starving kids I saw on TV, and a recent report my dad did on tire disposal all lead me to a post on the Islamic holiday of Ramadan.

Eh?

Most people have a general understanding that Ramadan is a month-long holiday where Muslims fast. For those that don’t know, that means they are not allowed to eat, drink, smoke, or participate in any sinful acts from sunrise to sunset. Because the Islamic calendar is shorter than the Gregorian one, the exact dates change every year. So sometimes, people living in the heat of the desert in the middle of summer are not allowed to drink even water all day long. Not surprisingly, about an hour before sundown chaos ensues as people scramble to get home. Once the call goes up that everyone can eat, bustling cities are reduced to ghost towns.

When you ask Muslims why they do this, many will say that it is a way to bring you closer to God/Allah. Some say it’s good for your health (but terrible for your breath, and not so healthy if you’re a Muslim soldier that still has to go on patrol). But many say that it is a good way to remind yourself that there are people in the world who live every day in starvation—it brings you a little closer to living their life and encourages you to be more sympathetic. Not eating tends to inspire a lot of acts of charity during this month (which, incidentally, is one of the five central tenants of Islam).

Hence the commercial of starving kids come to mind (though they could take a lesson or two from the animal shelter commercials. The kids make me sad, but I literally cannot watch the puppies and kittens when they come on).

How about Easter and the cancellation sign? I don’t understand why the sign was up, but it would be appropriate if you were a Muslim. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet. According to the Quran (which was revealed when? During Ramadan, hey, hey!), he was the son of Mary and it was a virgin birth, but he wasn’t God’s son. Jesus did perform miracles and was sentenced to die on the cross, but before he was hung up, God made a switcheroo, took Jesus up to heaven (still alive) and made the Romans just think they’d killed him. No resurrection is possible because he technically never died and therefore cancelling it makes sense. But Muslims believe he will be sent back to Earth as the supreme ruler right before Judgment Day, so there’s that.

And last but not least in this religious stream-of-consciousness fest, the tires. About two weeks before my first Ramadan in Afghanistan, I was at a small and very remote, single-Platoon base. Around dusk one evening, we saw a fire pop up in the distance. No big deal. Until we saw another, then another, then another. Before we knew it, the entire evening was filled with the lights of fires all around us. It was pretty, but a little unnerving. Concerned about the possibility that these were signal fires, we went to full alert (I got to man the haunted tower in the aid station, though that’s another story), until we saw the Afghan soliders giving us funny looks. They explained that it was a traditional pre-Ramadan celebration.

I was a little embarrassed that, as the cultural advisor, I’d never even heard of this, but it turns out that while it’s a big deal in central Asia, it’s not as big a thing in Arab countries, so I felt a little better. Where we were, it was traditional for people to burn tires to celebrate. Yes, very traditional, since, you know, they had lots of tires back in Muhammed’s day. From my dad’s paper (ah ha!), I happen to know that burning tires is rather a bad way to dispose of them and not very healthy for people or the environment, but when the average lifespan for an Afghan is something like 45 years, I guess that’s not a big concern.

So on that rambling note and in the spirit of religious holidays, Happy Chocolate Bunny Day!

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